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Trade Regulations of Australia

Trade Policy

Australia is considered one of the most open economies in the world, having made much progress since the 1980s in reversing the restrictive trade regime once characterised by substantial tariff protection for industries such as automobiles and textiles. The Australian economy has since reaped the rewards of tariff reduction through lower prices of imported business inputs, increased productivity and improved international competitiveness. Import prohibitions and restrictions, however, have remained in place in the form of generally strict quarantine or technical requirements, in order that a modern and responsive system to facilitate trade is maintained and biosecurity risks are managed.

Import Controls

There are no special requirements for applying an import licence, nor are there any quotas on imports. However, under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations, controls take the form of a) an absolute prohibition, which means that import of these goods is banned in any circumstances; and b) a restriction, where imports are allowed only if written authorisation is obtained from the relevant authorities, or if compliance with certain regulations is met. For some commodities, import permits are required to facilitate clearance of goods. More information on the prohibited and restricted imports can be found on the Australian Border Force website.

Customs Valuation and Tariff

Australia adopts the Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System (HS). It is a dual-column schedule listing general duty rates and preferential duty rates for developing countries. The average applied Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) tariff rate was 2.5% in 2018. The table below shows selected Australian tariff lines in 2018:

Table: Australian tariff
Table: Australian tariff

Customs Clearance

Importers wishing to clear their own goods should contact the Australian Border Force for advice on Customs requirements and operating hours. Import entry procedures are based on self-assessment by importers who should be aware of all their obligations. Penalties may be imposed for the submission of incorrect or misleading information.

Business travellers carrying commercial goods or sample may need to obtain permits for their goods depending on the nature of the goods, regardless of value. Quarantine and wildlife regulations and other restrictions may also apply to certain goods. Handheld computers and other electronic goods for personal use may be admitted duty-free provided that Customs is satisfied that these goods would be taken back on departure.

Customs advises that purchasing goods over the Internet or mail order are subject to Customs controls. Restricted goods brought into the country require an import permit. Goods may be imported duty and tax free if their value is A$1,000 or less for business travellers, with the exceptions of tobacco and alcoholic products. However, multiple packages to the same addressee from a single consignor arriving at the same time are liable for tax assessment.

GST and Other Taxes 

Goods and services tax (GST) was introduced in 2000 and is payable on most goods and services imported into Australia except for some essential commodities. GST is levied at 10% of the value of a taxable importation which is the sum of the customs value of the goods, any customs duty payable, delivery costs and other expenses.

Australia imposes GST, wine equalisation tax (WET) and luxury car tax (LCT) on locally produced and imported goods. More information on GST, WET and LCT can be found on the Australian Taxation Office website.

Anti-dumping and Countervailing Duties

Where a consignment of goods has been imported to Australia, or is likely to be imported, and an Australian industry producing the like goods believes there are reasonable grounds, an applicant may apply for a dumping duty and/or a countervailing duty notice to be published.

Australia has initiated a number of anti-dumping proceedings against certain countries including China. Anti-dumping notices can be found on the Anti-Dumping Commission website.  

Marking and Trade Descriptions

Importers are required to ensure that goods entering Australia are correctly labelled. It is an offence to import goods that do not bear a required trade description, or bear a false trade description.

Imported goods that require a trade description must be marked with the name of the country in which the goods are made and a true description of the goods in English language, in legible characters and in prominent position with weight or quantity.

Documentary Requirements

Bill of lading is required on all freight shipments. "To order" bills are permitted, freight collect shipments are generally acceptable. Certificate of Origin is not usually required except it is specially requested by importers.

Information for a commercial invoice should include name of vessel/carrier, shipper and consignee, country of origin of the goods, marks and numbers, quantity and weights, order date and number, selling price, method of payment etc.

Other documents may include packing list to facilitate cargo clearance. There are no specially known requirements for consular/customs invoice, insurance certificate, pre-shipment inspection and pro-forma invoice.

Product Standards and Consumer Protection

Australia is a signatory to the WTO Standards Code and has acceded to the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. However, Australia still maintains some restrictive requirements, particularly quarantine and health restrictions that have an impact on the free flow of goods.

Liability laws provide consumers with a ready cause of action against the manufacturers or importers of defective products. The Competition and Consumer Act (2010) prohibits restrictive or unfair trade practices, misleading or deceptive conduct, unconscionable conduct in trade or commerce and specific bans on unconscionable conduct in consumer and some business transactions.

Australian Free Trade Agreements

Australia has been active in pursuing free trade agreements (FTAs). It has concluded FTAs with a number of countries including New Zealand, Singapore, the US, China, Chile, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. In March 2019, Australia and Hong Kong signed an FTA which covers a wide range of areas such as goods, trade in services, investment, intellectual property, government procurement and competition. Australia has also signed multi-country FTAs such as the ASEAN Australia-New Zealand FTA, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus (which includes Australia, New Zealand and 9 Pacific Islands countries).

Australia is an active member in various international forums such as WTO and APEC. Currently it is pursuing bilateral FTAs with India, the EU and regional FTA including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC, which includes Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait)and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP, including the 10 ASEAN states and the five countries that the trade alliance has an FTA individually, namely, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand).

Hong Kong's trade with Australia

In 2018, Australia was the 20th largest trading partner of Hong Kong. Total exports to Australia were valued at US$4.5 billion with the bulk of re-exported goods originating from the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong’s imports from Australia amounted to US$2.3 billion in 2018. Please click here for the market profile of Australia.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research